ON LIBRARIES – Building Relationships with Students

Students are our priority. No matter what else we do, what programs we create, what books we choose, everything we do in some way should further their development as lifelong learners, users, and producers of knowledge. We build relationships with teachers because they are the gateway to the students, but we also must build direct connections to students.

We want the library to be viewed as a safe, welcoming environment for all.  For students to feel safe and welcomed a relationship needs to be in place.  Students need to see you as a trusted adult with whom they feel safe in asking questions of all types.  Students (and adults as well) tend to avoid displaying ignorance and so may shy away from asking for help.  We know it’s in the questions that we all learn and grow so creating a place where they can ask is important.

To begin, smiles are an obvious way to welcome all. It’s not just for the opening week but how you want to always greet students and teachers.  Think positive thoughts as you do so to ensure your smiles are seen as real.

Using proper names is a good next step.  Unlike smiles, these can be a challenge for librarians because we have the entire population to learn.  In a large school, it is probably impossible, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep working at it. Try to add at least five or six names each week.

Sometimes we get help. Elementary librarians should have rosters for their classes.  Mark it with the correct pronunciation and students’ preferred nicknames.  You can use tents, fixed seating, and other similar techniques for the first few weeks until you learn names.

For middle and high school librarians who see students mainly as teachers bring their classes in, you can have them introduce themselves the first time.  There are a number of mnemonic tricks online to help you remember but apologize in advance because you will be asking them to repeat their names as you work to learn them.  You will soon know any regulars by name. And show your willingness to not know something by asking students to repeat their names when necessary.

Brief conversations can also help you remember names. Orientations are a good time to start.  Don’t ask kids what they did during the summer.  Some had terrible ones and are thrilled to be back where it’s safe. Instead, ask, “What do you want to learn this year?” It’s an excellent way to learn about their interests. Use their names in conversations to help you learn.

In ASCD’s May issue of Educational Leadership, Mary Ann Ware and Jodi Rath wrote an article entitled “4 Must-Haves for Positive Teacher-Teen Relationships.”  Although targeted toward high school, their recommendations work with even the youngest students.  You are probably implementing some of them even unconsciously. Their four must-haves are:

Consistency – Students need to have routines and boundaries.  It makes them feel safe if they can count on how you will react to situations and their behavior.  It helps them develop their own self-discipline.

Respect – Everyone deserves it. You will never get it if you don’t give it. Kids will reflect back to you what you demonstrate towards them. Be mindful of interrupting a conversation with a student in order to respond to an adult who came into the library.

High Expectations – Show you believe in students by letting them know you expect them to perform well.  You are still there to guide and coach them to reach their goals, but you don’t make things easy.  There is pride in completing a difficult task. This builds their self-confidence and motivates them to continue tackling other challenges.  Acknowledge their achievements specifically including their perseverance when things didn’t go right.

Kindness – The world is a tough place, and school is often no different. There are articles now about burnout in kindergarten. Be observant and note when a student seems distressed and, if possible, quietly ask about it. They may need to just be by themselves for a bit or sometimes talk to someone.  Your noticing and taking the time to reach out is how the library becomes a sanctuary and safe haven for so many students.

Your students are your priority and your advocates.  How you treat them and how they feel about you becomes known to their parents and teachers.  But most importantly, by building positive relationships with them you help them become global citizens who embrace learning and growing.

ON LIBRARIES: The Price of Perfection

You want your colleagues to see you as vital and hopefully indispensable which means you work very hard to get things right.  But are you working towards excellence or perfection?

Excellence means something stands out because it is well done.  It achieves its goals. This is true of projects and people. Perfection is an unachievable standard that sets you and those around you up for failure because it cannot, by definition, be reached. Seeking the elusive and impossible is not a good use of your resources – personal or professional. Those who want perfection tend to struggle with accepting help or delegating because they are concerned that the work of others is never up to their standards.  Frequently, perfectionists don’t even believe their own work meets their standards, making them work even harder, never feeling success.

Sometimes, we can’t help but measure ourselves against a mythical Perfect – what we believe others are doing easily and flawlessly – and when we do, we have to fall short. Missing that mark leads to feelings of self-doubt which was the topic of last week’s blog, as well as losing self-confidence.  All of which adds stress and keeps you from stepping out of your comfort zone and being a leader.

Jane Perdue says Perfection = an Overrated Waste of Effort.  She observes that it’s boring.  Of course, it is. Imperfections make life interesting. To counter your pursuit of perfection, she propounds nine ways it is overrated.

  1. Most people don’t recognize perfection when they see it. Others won’t recognize that something you created is perfect in your eyes. Of course, the opposite is true as well.  You see the flaws in your creation, but others don’t. Although it sounds counter-intuitive – perfect should be perfect—there isn’t one standard of perfection.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is perfection. Excellence is easy to recognize because a goal has been reached.
  2. Lost opportunity cost. How much time did you lose fixing that display? Working hard to line the books up perfectly? Walking away and going back just to move one part of it a hairline differently? Think about what you didn’t get to as a result of spending time on something that was already excellent and you’ll start to see the cost of perfectionism. It can keep us from having the time we need for the other goals on our plan.
  3. Miss out on simple joys. Those seeking perfection have less time to do the things that matter –like enjoy life. Life is messy and definitely not perfect. Perdue notes it’s “hard to look perfect eating an ice cream cone outside on a hot summer day.” But it’s fun. Having fun makes you light-hearted – and accessible. It gives you a happy mindset that makes other people want to be with you and that is important if you are building and maintaining relationships. Being messy can bring people closer to you.
  4. Present as narrow-minded. If you are looking for perfection, there is only one right way in your mind. Which means what other people do/say is wrong. You may not realize it, but that’s the message perfectionists send.  It’s intimidating and isolating, and it will work against you when trying to collaborate.
  5. Perfectionism feeds sex and gender stereotypes. We know from mass media what a “perfect” woman’s body is like. We know that not only is there “no crying in baseball,” but real men don’t cry either. Perfectionism is limiting and narrow   Embracing the diversity in others and accepting our imperfections creates better relationships which make the library a safe, welcoming space for all.
  6. Being perfect doesn’t automatically provide approval and affirmation. As you can see from the first things on the list, it is more likely to put people off which is ironic since usually people strive for perfection the hopes of gaining approval or positive notice. Your being perfect will not make others like you or create the willingness to work with you. It’s providing others with what they need, being open to them and their challenges which will bring support and cooperation.
  7. Perfectionism will make you sick. In striving hard to be perfect, you wear yourself out. Perfectionism dramatically increases stress, and the worst part is most of it is self-imposed. Depression is a potential result (due in part to the isolationism that goes with perfectionism) as is high blood pressure and poor eating habits.
  8. Fuel negative emotions. What happens when you can’t and don’t measure up to your standards? Self-doubt takes over. The negative noise in your head gets louder and your confidence plummets. In comes the Imposter Syndrome telling you others will see you aren’t worthy. It’s a deadly spiral that can only end once you step away from the lure of perfectionism.
  9. Consumed and paralyzed by fear. When perfect is your goal, you are more likely to fear trying something new because you worry you won’t be able to do it perfectly. You read of what others are doing in their libraries, but you prefer to stick with the tried-and-true because you know how to do that.  If you’re not growing, your program will lag behind and stand a greater chance of being eliminated.

Hopefully, some of the things on this list will help you notice if you’ve made perfect your goal.  When you hold yourself to some imaginary standard of perfectionism, you are more likely to hold yourself back from becoming a leader because taking risks and trying new things become nearly impossible. We are imperfect beings.  In striving for improvement and excellence we learn and grow. We accept our faults and failures as steps along our journey, and by doing so serve as a model for our students.

ON LIBRARIES: Managing Self Doubt

Leaders need to exude confidence regardless of the occasional and perfectly normal feelings of self-doubt.  Fear plays a big role in self-doubt.  Whenever you step out of your comfort zone, you are in risky territory.  As William Jennings Bryan said, “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” When you keep taking risks, based on your knowledge and passions, you will have some failures, but you will have so many successes people will quickly forget the ones that didn’t work.

Sometimes the doubt comes in the form of Imposter Syndrome. It’s when you begin second-guessing yourself and the voices inside your head say you are not up to a particular challenge. Or you are not that good.  Even very successful people suffer from this on occasion.

We have a tendency to see what others do that we cannot.  Maybe you are using Twitter in a limited away, but you see so many librarians leading Twitter chats and showing all they accomplish. How can you think you are a tech integrator when you don’t know how to do these things? We don’t see the things we do that others cannot.  We assume everyone is doing that. You know, the other thing that we can’t do and what we can do is nothing special.

Recognition is key when you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Once you notice it, you can have a good talk with yourself and work to redirect your thoughts. Make sure you remind yourself of what you have achieved so far which is a good indicator that you can take this new path as well.

Even if you have done something before, the new iteration will bring a challenge which can cause a flare-up of self-doubt. I’m experiencing it myself. I just signed a contract with ALA Editions for a book entitled Classroom Management for School Librarians. The manuscript is due mid-February, and it needs to be about 60,000 words.  I look at the task before me and wonder if I can get this done. I know what I am covering in each chapter, but do I have enough to say about the topic to meet the targeted number of words?  Sure, I have written many books and met both deadlines and word counts, but at the beginning of the project, looking at the road ahead, I can feel the self-doubt creeping in.

I handle it by recognizing its presence and plunge ahead.  One step at a time. I set internal targets for completing the chapters and the word count for each. I know I will never hit them exactly, but this gives me a framework and keeps me from being paralyzed by the size of the task.

Lolly Daskal provides her own solution for dealing with self-doubt in What to Do When You Doubt Yourself as a Leader.  Her eight suggestions are:

Know you’re not alone – When you are mired in self-doubt, it’s easy to believe no one has ever felt that way.  I guarantee just about everyone with whom you come in contact has those moments, days, weeks.  I doubt there’s a single leader who hasn’t experienced it.

Remember that breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs – If you focus on how to get through this time, you may discover you have come up with an alternative that is better than your initial plan. Daskal notes the breakdown may “mean you’re on the edge of a terrific period of growth and discovery.”  It may not feel that way in the moment, but if you keep moving forward you’ll get to that breakthrough.

Ride the wave – It’s what I am doing now. Focus on why you want to tackle the project.  What is the reason you are allowing self-doubt to creep in?  I find beginnings are hard.  There is such a long road ahead.  But I am working on reminding myself, the journey has its own rewards.  I will be learning as I go—and that’s a good thing.

Treat your struggle as the beginning of a success story – If you are a regular reader of my blog and/or have been to my presentations, you know I draw on my personal experiences.  I include failures and successes because that’s life. Everything you do adds to the richness of it.  As a Chinese proverb states, “Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.”

 Don’t try to go through it alone – A very wise suggestion.  We tend to hide our self-doubts as though it were a shameful secret. Who are the people who always believe in you? If you have a mentor, that’s great.  If not, this may be a good time to get one. These are the people who can give you the positive self-talk you can’t seem to give yourself.

If you can’t change the situation, you have to change yourself – Realistically, do you need to learn something to accomplish the task?  If so, take the time to build the needed skill. At the same time, focus on your strengths to build your self-confidence. Together the learning and the knowing will help propel you forward.

Get outside help – This is much like “don’t try to go through it alone.” When you need someone to talk you “off the ledge” go to your PLNs whether this is your local AASL chapter, on Facebook or other places.  You will find the support you need.

Lead from within – Regain your faith in yourself by being a quiet leader. Support others on their journey.  Be the one to help someone else with self-doubt.  You will be amazed at how this will help cure your own.

Confidence is not a permanent condition.  Life will always bring challenges to chip away at it. Be prepared to deal with it.  You are a leader, a confidence-builder in others. Remember to do this for yourself as well.

ON LIBRARIES: Leading and Planning With Confidence

With the new school year already started or starting soon, many of you are asking yourselves how will this year be better than last year?  The often quoted saying of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Begin as you mean to go on and go on as you began,” suggests you need to have a plan.  And to execute a plan, you need confidence. Confidence in yourself.  Confidence in the power of your Vision and Mission Statement.  Confidence in knowing you are a Leader.

Gaining that confidence can be easier said than done.  If you feel overwhelmed by self-doubt or are prone to beating yourself up it’s going to be challenging to reach your goals. Instead of putting yourself in that position, start this year off differently by building the confidence you need to propel yourself forward.

In an article entitled What You Can Do to Build Confidence, Joe Baldoni poses three questions to get you on the right track. By reflecting on and answering them, you will also have a plan, and when you confidently plan for your program, you demonstrate your leadership.

The three big questions are:

  1. What do I want to achieve next? Dream big as you list what you would most like to achieve. When your list is complete, see which are most aligned with your Vision and Mission statements. Which one connects most closely with your passion about the library program?

From this, you can build your goal for the year.  Now you have some more questions to ask yourself. What will it take to get there? If money is required, where can you get it? Grants? Donors?  If additional help is needed or you want to be working with certain teachers or community members, how can you enroll them into wanting to be part of the plan?

Next, create a timeline.  Reverse engineering is great for this. Work backward starting with the completion.  What step is necessary before that?  And before that one?  Keep doing it until you get to the beginning.

When you set the plan into motion, keep track of the start – and end – dates of your various steps.  If something starts or ends later than planned (and that’s bound to happen at some point), you will need to make some adjustments.  Do formative assessment noting where things are working or not working and tweak your plan as needed.

  1. What will I do if I encounter resistance? Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. What will you do if one of the people you want to enroll in the project refuses to be a part of it? Who do you have as your Plan B?  Plan C?  You chose this plan because you believed in it.  Don’t quit on it.

Who are the people who most support you? You need to have them in your corner as you go forward.  Do you have a mentor?  That person can be a great sounding board when things go off-kilter. Make plans to check in with her/him on a regular basis for support and encouragement.

How do you react when you are frustrated?  Be prepared for that occurring and have a strategy for combatting it.  Strategies include reaching out for support, meditation or mantras, taking a walk or time with a coloring book. Find what works for you. You may discover the solution to the problem may be an improvement. Remember not to let changes or the unexpected throw you off of your overall plan and goal. Success is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

  1. What do I expect to learn about myself? This is a most interesting question. It recognizes the importance of reflection.  It also speaks to the first question as to why this particular goal was important to you. The question is also a reminder that whether you are wildly successful with your plan or it doesn’t come to fruition, if you take time to look at the whole, you will learn something about yourself.  How are you in creating relationships?  How do you deal with those who don’t agree with you?

Analyze how high your emotional intelligence was throughout the project. What was your fallback response when things don’t go your way? What new strengths did you discover about yourself?  When you notice these things you’ll build your confidence foundation and find it stronger in the future.

The truth is, you have many reasons to be confident.  You have a variety of skills, talents, and experience. Draw on them as you plan.  And always have a plan in place.  As Benjamin Franklin said, (or any number of others who are attributed to having said this in one version or another), “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Or in the words of the well-known philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

And one small tip, particularly for those who haven’t returned to school yet: Make an appointment with your principal. Discuss your plan now while things are relatively quiet.  Keep the meeting short.  Follow up with a brief e-mail or note (handwritten notes have such meaning these days) thanking her/him for the time and reiterating what was discussed.  It often is the best way to get a project off to a great start.

Have a wonderful year everyone.